In crisis events, timely access to information can spell the difference between life and death. But during conflict, or after a natural disaster, information gathering and analysis is also extremely difficult–and decisions are often made without a clear picture of the unfolding situation.
This stark reminder, from a new report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), underscores the challenges—and opportunities—that aid providers encounter daily, from Syria to the Philippines. Called “Humanitarianism in the Network Age,” the ground-breaking document charts how new technologies, like mobile, are affecting communities’ behavior in emergencies. It also offers guidance to aid implementers on how to leverage these tools to enhance emergency response.
On May 1, the Thomson Reuters Foundation (the non-profit arm of news agency Reuters) is taking the report live—and making it interactive—in a special online debate that features experts from UN agencies, Souktel, and Reuters AlertNet. Souktel’s CEO Jacob Korenblum will join UN-OCHA Global Coordinator Imogen Wall and AlertNet team members to chat with the public via Twitter and ScribbleLive, and to tackle three key questions: How can new technologies better connect ‘people in need’ with ‘people who can help’? How are these tools affecting the overall delivery of humanitarian aid? And how are aid agencies adapting to a more open, participatory way of interacting with people in crisis?
“We’re looking forward to sharing our insights,” Korenblum said from Souktel’s office in Ramallah, Palestine. “Being based in a region which, unfortunately, is prone to crisis events, we have first-hand experience building mobile tech tools that streamline aid response”.
He adds: “In 2008 we had barely started up when conflict broke out in Gaza. We worked quickly to set up software thathelped World Food Program partners collect data & send info via SMS. That experience taught us some crucial lessons about technology and crises–about what works, and what doesn’t. Since then, we’ve applied this learning to Egypt’s recent elections, the 2011 Horn of Africa food crisis, and a wide range of other crisis events. We’re excited to share these ‘lessons learned’ with the aid community”.